Pedalling to glory: Meet JP Dhanyadha, the first Indian cyclist to secure a Junior Asian Silver

Tamil Nadu's cycling star takes on Commonwealth Youth Games in Trinidad and Tobago, strives to maintain medal-winning performance

ByAjay Tomar

Published Aug 09, 2023 | 12:00 PMUpdatedAug 09, 2023 | 4:05 PM

Meet JP Dhanyadha, the first Indian cyclist to win Junior Asian Silver. (Supplied)

In 2017, JP Dhanyadha hopped on a bicycle, not thinking much beyond having a good time and getting in shape. Fast forward a few years and she’s done something incredible: she’s become the first Indian to win an international medal in track cycling.

Hailing from Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, this long-distance cyclist clinched a remarkable silver medal in the 2-km individual pursuit cycling event at the Junior Asian Track Championships in Malaysia.

But Dhanyadha’s achievements in the Malaysian tournament don’t stop there.

This young cyclist came incredibly close to securing two more medals — the 7.5-km scratch race and the 4-km team pursuit. Unfortunately, she narrowly missed out on those opportunities and ultimately finished in fourth place.

Keeping the momentum alive

Meet JP Dhanyadha, first Indian cyclist to peddle to a Junior Asian silver and a mission Olympic prodigy

JP Dhanyadha at the medal ceremony of Asian Track Championships 2023. (Supplied)

Dhanyadha’s triumph at the Asian Championship boosted her confidence and she’s taken this with her to the current Trinbago 2023 Commonwealth Youth Games.

The event is unfolding in the picturesque dual-island nation of Trinidad and Tobago from 4-11 August.

Dhanyadha is gearing up for a packed schedule of four events: the 2-km pursuit, scratch race, points race, and the 80-km road event.

Her coach, Anil Kumar from the Sports Authority of India (SAI), is confident in her abilities and shares, “I’m quite certain she’ll come back with a medal or two. She’s a strong and sincere athlete.”

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Setting records in style 

During her time in Malaysia, Dhanyadha blazed through the track, clocking an impressive time of 2 minutes and 28 seconds.

Meet JP Dhanyadha, first Indian cyclist to peddle to a Junior Asian silver and a mission Olympic prodigy

JP Dhanyadha with her coach Anil Kumar of the SAI. (Supplied)

This feat not only secured her a prominent place but also shattered the existing national record of 2 minutes and 31 seconds in the 2-km individual pursuit category.

Like any newcomer to the athletic scene, the 17-year-old junior cyclist experienced a wave of “anxiety and nerves”. This was her debut on the international stage, competing in the Asian Track Championships.

“Players from many countries were participating. Moreover, no one from India had won a medal in the competition. So, I had low hopes. But my coach, my parents, and other well-wishers reminded me about my training and told me that I have it in me to win the medal. Finally, it paid off,” an elated Dhanyadha tells South First.

However, missing two possible medals was “painful” for the teenage cyclist.

Describing her experience, the junior cyclist shares, “I finished in fourth place, just 1.2 microseconds behind. Tears welled up in my eyes at that moment, but afterwards, I found solace in celebrating the silver.”

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Pedalling through her journey

Until 2019, Dhanyadha was riding mountain bikes. In January and February 2020, she underwent a two-month training with former international and 11-time national champion cyclist Maxwell Trevor, who runs the Maxwell Trevor Cycling Welfare Association (MTCWA) in Tarnaka, Secunderabad.

Meet JP Dhanyadha, first Indian cyclist to peddle to a Junior Asian silver and a mission Olympic prodigy

JP Dhanyadha (right-most) with her teammates and coach after winning a medal at an ONGC tournament. (Supplied)

In November 2020, she was selected under the National Centre of Excellence (NCoE) camp, which is a Union government project run by the CFI and SAI.

Her beginnings were marked by local victories, as she triumphed in races held near her home in the Veerapandi Pirivu neighbourhood of Sama Naicken Palayam, Coimbatore.

“Most of the coaches recommended I switch to track and road training as they are considered important events. I participated in a few national events for around two years. I won medals in a few of them,” she recalls.

In the beginning, she took part in both sprint and endurance categories. However, following advice from her coach, she decided to channel her focus solely into the endurance category.

Having observed her growth, India’s apex sports governing body asked her to clear the Functional Threshold Power (FTP) to qualify for the national team.

The FTP entails a 20-minute test that gauges a cyclist’s average wattage endurance over an hour, serving as a dependable gauge of their current fitness level. This test holds significant importance in the cycling community.

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Delhi, first home now

For three years now, Delhi’s Indira Gandhi Stadium has become Dhanyadha’s first home. The stadium, renowned for wrestling and boxing, now provides the backdrop for her cycling journey.

“After shifting to Delhi and training under Anil Sir, I feel I have started performing better and winning more medals in national events. I train six hours a day, in the morning and evening,” she shares.

Meet JP Dhanyadha, first Indian cyclist to peddle to a Junior Asian silver and a mission Olympic prodigy

Dhanyadha (second from left) celebrating with her teammates after winning medals at a tournament. (Supplied)

“Every day is a new training session. We alternate between hitting the gym, road cycling, and track sessions. Our diet is well-balanced, with a focus on getting protein three times a day,” she explains.

At home in Coimbatore, her mother, Priyamvada, serves as an Inspector with the Tamil Nadu Police, while her father, Dhanyadha Suresh Kumar, is a businessman. Dhanyadha also has a younger sister.

“My parents are my biggest supporters. They’ve stood by me through all my tournaments and they even travelled to Malaysia for the Asian Championships, when no other parents were able to come,” Dhanyadha joyfully mentions.

Dhanyadha’s mother feels that cycling has greatly increased her daughter’s fitness and immunity. It has also instilled courage in her to surpass difficulties and achieve her goals.

“Due to her training, she is now very fit compared to other 17-year-old children. Last year, she fell sick with jaundice for nearly three months. She was completely bedridden for a month. But with four months of practice, she won the Asian Championship medal,” she details, adding that her daughter has been “fortunately” trained by good coaches so far.

Dhanyadha draws her greatest inspiration from Filippo Ganna, an exceptional five-time world champion in the individual pursuit and a gold medalist at the Tokyo Olympics. Another source of inspiration is Chloé Dygert, an accomplished American world champion and a silver medalist at the Rio Olympics.

As a Class 12 student at Aksharam International School in Coimbatore, she chose the Commerce stream and now attends online classes while she’s at the training camp.

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Equipment, a costly affair

While track cycling isn’t exclusively reserved for the wealthy, being a professional cyclist does demand substantial investment in equipment.

Meet JP Dhanyadha, first Indian cyclist to peddle to a Junior Asian silver and a mission Olympic prodigy

JP Dhanyadha. (Supplied)

This investment becomes essential due to the intense competition at the elite level and the need to ensure personal safety.

“The equipment doesn’t come cheap. Initially, I was riding a cycle worth around ₹2 to ₹3 lakh, but it didn’t quite match up to the demands of the track. Eventually, the state government stepped in and provided me with ₹15 lakh to acquire a new cycle,” she recounts.

Dhanyadha went on to mention that the cost of a cycle’s frame alone could range from ₹7-8 lakh at a minimum.

“Up until now, I’ve been riding an Argon 18 cycle from a Canadian manufacturer. The cycle used by the world champion, Italy’s Filippo Ganna, costs nearly ₹40 lakh. My favourite model is from the Pinarello company. Even the finest helmets can go up to ₹2 lakh,” Dhanyadha highlights.

Her parents gifted her a Pinarello cycle valued at ₹9 lakh before the Youth Commonwealth Games.

Moreover, Dhanyadha expressed contentment with the Federation’s unwavering support, noting that they have consistently provided her with essential equipment.

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Aiming for Olympic glory 

In 2020, Dhanyadha’s journey soared as she secured her spot in the Union Sports Ministry’s prominent support programme, the Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS), aimed at the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles, USA.

JP Dhanyadha with her parents. (Supplied)

Reflecting on the experience, the junior cyclist shares, “In total, they selected just 15 cyclists, which added a bit of pressure. But on that particular day, I managed to secure the top spot. I believe my stamina was in top form.”

“We have set a target for her to qualify for the 2028 LA Olympics and we are eying a medal in the 2032 Brisbane Olympics,” Anil says.

With formidable competitors representing cycling powerhouses like Italy, England, Australia, and more at the Youth Commonwealth Games, Dhanyadha is well aware of the tough competition.

However, she’s prepared to face the challenge head-on.

Her determination shines through as she expresses, “My goal is to deliver a strong performance and bring home a medal for India. I’m aiming for success in the scratch race, and hopefully in other events as well. In the realm of cycling, India hasn’t secured a medal yet, so breaking that barrier is also a personal objective of mine.”

Dhanyadha believes that all the cyclists in the TOPS programme possess the potential to stand on the podium in the future. Yet, she emphasises the need for technically proficient coaches. Reflecting on her own coach, Anil, she underlines the potential benefits of foreign coaches’ involvement in the programme.

Dhanyadha hopes her story underscores the potential of Indian cycling. With her, she carries the aspirations of a nation, aiming to become the first cyclist to bring home Olympic glory.

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